(CS photo by Jaclyn Lippelmann)
(CS photo by Jaclyn Lippelmann)

Hundreds of people braved the rain on Dec. 1 for the annual Walk with Mary, sponsored by the Archdiocese of Washington’s Office of Cultural Diversity and Outreach. The procession began in front of the Shrine of the Sacred Heart in Washington and concluded at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, where the group paused to pray a rosary in Spanish before entering the church.

As he walked through the rain, Epinaio Zuiga, a parishioner of St. John Neumann in Gaithersburg who is originally from the Philippines, said the walk was “just a piece of the sacrifice” that Jesus made for humanity.

“I want to feel a piece of whatever He did for us,” he said.

Washington Auxiliary Bishop Mario Dorsonville led this year’s procession, walking, praying and singing alongside people from many different cultural backgrounds who came together to celebrate the upcoming feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, which takes place on Dec. 12.

Graciela Ripoll even came all the way from Mexico for the Walk with Mary, and she joined her granddaughter and great grandson in the basilica as they all wore matching Mexican ponchos. Ripoll serves as the president of the board for an organization called “Manto de Maria,” which draws inspiration from the Blessed Mother to philanthropically support hospitals, prisons and marginalized communities.

She has a strong devotion to Our Lady of Guadalupe, and after the Archdiocese of Washington donated some prayer cards to the organization, Claudia Bartolini, the coordinator of resource development for the archdiocese’s Office of Cultural Diversity and Outreach, invited Ripoll to attend the Walk with Mary. She did, and brought prayer cards of her own to hand out to the people whom she met.

In Spanish, Ripoll said she was very moved “to be able to be here in Washington to honor our Mother, the Blessed Virgin of Guadalupe.”

In 1531, the Virgin Mary appeared to a poor peasant named Juan Diego in what is now Mexico. Speaking to him in his native language, she asked him to tell the bishop to build her a temple. When the bishop did not believe his story, the Virgin Mary appeared to Juan Diego again and gave him roses at a place where they usually did not bloom.

Juan Diego gathered the roses into his cloak, or “tilma,”and brought them to the bishop as a sign of the Virgin Mary’s apparition. As the roses fell before the bishop, an image of the Virgin Mary dressed in Aztec clothing appeared miraculously on the tilma, which can still be seen today in the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City.

Following the Walk with Mary, Cardinal Donald Wuerl celebrated Mass in the basilica. At the beginning of the Mass, dancers dressed in traditional Aztec clothing danced down the aisle as drummers at each end of the basilica played echoing drum beats. A man dressed as St. Juan Diego followed them down the aisle to present Cardinal Wuerl with a tilma, containing the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe and several roses, just as Juan Diego’s would have.

In his homily for the Mass, Bishop Dorsonville said the Walk with Mary is always a day of encounter with the immigrant community in the Archdiocese of Washington, as people of all cultures come together to walk.

“We are not two churches; we are one Church,” he said. “We walk in the presence of Our Lady and Jesus Christ.”

Bernadette Egbulem, a parishioner of St. Mary’s in Landover Hills, attended the walk with a group of alumni from her high school in Sierra Leone, West Africa, which was named after Our Lady of Guadalupe. At that school, she said the missionaries from Mexico taught the students the history of the apparition, and both Christian and Muslim students were brought together in their love for Our Lady of Guadalupe.

“Rain or shine, we are always going to be here for Our Lady of Guadalupe. She is very near to our hearts,” she said. “For the diocese to see different nationalities just walking, praying and singing in the streets of Washington, it is a beautiful culture.”

Stephen Kim, a parishioner of St. John Neumann in Gaithersburg, said, “we are all from different places and origins but we are all one in God.”

Gabby Cross, a parishioner of Our Lady Help of Christians in Waldorf, said, “I came here today because I think it is important to show thanks to Mary for saying ‘yes,’ because without that we wouldn’t be able to be saved or go to Heaven.”

A young girl named Karla Portillo, who along with her baby sister and younger brother was dressed in traditional Mexican clothing for the walk, was born with cystic fibrosis, and said, “I see Mary, God, Jesus, all of them, as an opportunity for me to get cured.”

“I think that it’s important for everyone to Walk with Mary,” she said. “Even when they are sick, try to do something to see that walk, because it gives everybody the faith and courage they need.”

Roland Bako, a parishioner at St. John Neumann in Gaithersburg, said he also finds courage through the Blessed Mother.

“In connection with St. Juan Diego, the Blessed Mother is my protectress and through her arises in me confidence, and with that confidence I can walk with courage – not just the physical walk – but the spiritual journey to Jesus through Mary,” he said.